An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, September 2, 2019
Music: current count 32020  rated (+36), 227  unrated (-9).
Rated count topped 32,000 this week. I'd count that as a milestone, if not exactly news, as the accumulation has been as steady as time since I posted my first rated count of 8,080 in January 2003. That was about the time I started writing Recycled Goods plus the occasional Village Voice review, leading up to Jazz Consumer Guide, and a bit of work for Rolling Stone, Seattle Weekly, and F5. Those outlets opened up a stream of promo copies that continues (somewhat abated, often just a trickle) to this day. But as the mail thinned out, I resorted increasingly to streaming to make up the difference and expand my horizons. Since 2003, I've averaged a bit less than 30 per week (28.75), a bit less than 1,500 per year (1495). If I made a chart of that, I imagine it would show an upward slant from 2003-11 (when Jazz CG ended, then a plateau, tailing off a bit the last couple years).
Before 2003, that 8,080 came from close to 30 years of record buying (with a few promos in the late-1970s). That averages out to about 5 records per week, 270 per year, but a graph wouldn't be flat: you'd find an initial bulge peaking around 1977-78, a long trough, and a marked increase from 1995 on. I listened to music in my teens, but never bought much until I got my first steady job around 1973. My early music writings start in 1974, including a few reviews for the Village Voice in 1975-79. I gave them up around 1980, when I landed an engineering job and moved to New Jersey. I cut way back on my record buying there, and it's possible that some years I bought less than 100, maybe as few as 50. I moved to Boston in 1985, and found myself spending more time in record stores. I started buying CDs relatively late, and my pace picked up around 1995 when I got into a big jazz/roots kick. That continued when I returned to Kansas in 1999, as I built up the level of expertise that allowed me to write Recycled Goods and Jazz Consumer Guide.
But what really got me back into writing, aside from losing my software engineering job and finding few suitable opportunities, was encouragement from Michael Tatum, Bob Christgau, and (decisively) Laura Tillem. Still, I never planned on making music my central (let alone exclusive) writing focus, and I've sometimes wondered whether it hasn't just been a zero-sum game. I could have spent the last 20 years writing free software (as I had started in the 1990s with Ftwalk. I put a fair amount of effort into an open source business plan for home automation, and could have returned to that, or developed any number of tangential ideas. I also had a scheme for writer-oriented websites, of which Robert Christgau's was intended as a prototype. (One more I built was for Carol Cooper.) Several things distracted me from those paths (although I still maintain those two websites).
The other path I considered was writing political philosophy, which had been my main interest before getting sidetracked into music critique in the mid-1970s. I had soured on politics by 1975, and as I turned away from music around 1980 I wound up reading mostly science (making up for turning away from my early interest), engineering, and business. Laura reminded me that I still knew quite a bit about politics and history, and I toyed with the idea of writing a political book in the late 1990s. September 11, 2001 got me to reading history, politics, and economics again. (You can peruse my reading list -- the data file for my "Recent Reading" blog widget, newly formatted -- here.) I wound up writing several tons of political commentary -- not quite what I envisioned, but scattered with a fair number of serious ideas (some much more distinctive than the grunt work I've cranked out on music).
Seems like I've always been a notoriously slow reader and a poky, easily distracted writer, so for a good while I just took some comfort in getting any writing done at all. The on-line notebook has about 6.5 million words since 2000, and I've compiled much of that into nine ODT files averaging 1500 pages each (4 on music, 4 on politics, 1 personal). I can't claim they're very good, but when I dip into them I often find things worth remembering and even repeating. Still, these days I'm more likely to think of them as opportunity costs: if only I had focused on one thing or the other, maybe I'd have something much better to show for all the effort. Rating (and more/less reviewing) 32,000 records has been a pretty ridiculous thing to do -- as proven by the fact that no one else has been so foolish to do something that required nothing more than a lot of disposable hours. The only thing that would have been a bigger waste of time was not bothering to take notes.
As I wrote the above, I listened to three more albums, including a rather nice one by Florian Hoefner that is certain to remain below damn near everyone's interest threshold. I have little more to add on the records listed below. One thing is that there's only one non-jazz album among the new releases (but three in the recent compilations). Partly, I played quite a few new albums from the promo queue. I also added the 4.5/5.0 star reviewed records from The Free Jazz Collective to my 2019 metacritic file, and that pointed me to more new jazz (including several 2018 releases I had missed). But partly it was just one of those weeks when I felt much more certain about the jazz I heard than the non-jazz. The non-jazz exceptions this week came from Phil Overeem's latest list update (ok, Two Niles was on his 2018 list, but I found it on the Bandcamp page for Star Band De Dakar).
I listened to two other non-jazz records from this list, but couldn't make up my mind and held them back: Lana Del Rey's Norman Fucking Rockwell (number 5) and Raphael Saadiq's Jimmy Lee (18). I'm attracted to and resistant to both, which means they'll probably wind up high B+, but I'm not certain enough to say. Thanks to working on the metacritic file, I'm probably more aware of new non-jazz right now than any time this year, but less sure of my ears. On the other hand, this is definitely a good year for jazz.
New records reviewed this week:
Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Aqisseq (2016 , ONJazz): French pianist, close to a dozen albums since 2000, backed by bass and drums. Piano sounds prepared, never quite where you expect it. B+(**)
Kenyatta Beasley Septet: The Frank Foster Songbook (2019, Art Vs Transit, 2CD): Trumpet player, from New Orleans, regards Foster (alto saxophonist, a major arranger for Count Basie, died 2011) as a mentor. Beasley's septet is effectively a big band, especially with a batch of special guests. Unabashed swing, runs long. B+(**)
Ray Blue: Work (2019, Jazzheads): Tenor saxophonist, several records since 2001, wrote a couple songs here but mostly sticks with standards. Backed by guitar, piano, bass, drums, and occasional guests (some trombone, plus piano spots for Kirk Lightsey and Benito Gonzalez). Easy listening as it should be. B+(**) [cd]
Cat in a Bag: Cat in a Bag (2019, Clean Feed): Quartet, recorded in Berlin but Portuguese musicians: Bruno Figueira (sax), João Clemente (guitar), João Lucas (bass), Duarte Fonseca (drums). Rockish in spots, although too avant to fit easily into the fusion bag. B+(***)
Corey Christiansen: La Proxima (2019, Origin): Guitarist, sixth album since 2008, backed by bass, drums, and more percussion. Long on groove, with a touch of Abercrombie. B+(*) [cd]
Peter Eldridge/Kenny Werner: Somewhere (2019, Rosebud Music): Jazz singer, member of New York Voices and Moss, has several previous albums on his own. Werner, of course, is the well-known pianist, so you might hope for something like the Tony Bennett/Bill Evans duets, but the music starts off with thick (hype sheet says "lush") strings. Better on the rare occasions when they let up, but not much. C- [cd]
Haruna Fukazawa: Departure (2019, Summit): Flute player, from Japan, based in New York, has a previous record as Jazz Triangle. Quintet with Steve Wilson (soprano sax/flute), piano, bass, and drums. Four originals, four covers, nice arrangements of Strayhorn and Silver. B+(*) [cd]
Olli Hirvonen: Displace (2019, Ropeadope): Finnish guitarist, based in New York, third album, quartet with piano (Luke Marantz), bass, and drums. Got some high-flying groove. B+(**) [cd]
I Jahbar and Friends: Inna Duppy SKRS Soundclash (2019, Bokeh Versions): Jabari Miller, aka Jahbar I, album cover (and Bandcamp page) suggests this parse. Dancehall evolves, picking up all sorts of cosmic crud. B- [bc]
Michael Gregory Jackson Clarity Quartet: Whenufindituwillknow (2019, Golden): Guitarist, recorded the album Clarity in 1976 with future stars Oliver Lake, David Murray, and Leo Smith, plus a few more into the 1980s when he turned more to pop and started using the name Michael Gregory. Reclaimed his full name, and his avant-jazz rep, recently. Quartet with alto/soprano sax (Sion Spang-Hanssen), bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]
Roberto Magris Sextet: Sun Stone (2019, JMood): Pianist, from Italy, mainstream player fond of cool jazz icons -- has featured Herb Geller, and here sets the tables for Ira Sullivan (flute, alto/soprano saxes). Sextet adds trumpet (Shareef Clayton), tenor sax (Mark Colby), bass, and drums. Lush isn't the right word, but does seem like some kind of luxury. B+(***) [cd]
Todd Marcus: Trio+ (2019, Stricker Street): Bass clarinet player, based in Baltimore, fifth album, the trio is with Aleem Saleem or Jeff Reed on bass and Ralph Peterson or Eric Kennedy on drums, the plus is Sean Jones (trumpet) on four cuts. B+(**) [cd]
Joe McPhee/John Edwards/Klaus Kugel: Journey to Parazzar (2017 , Not Two): McPhee plays tenor sax and pocket trumpet, free and hard, backed by bass and drums. B+(***)
Dave Miller Trio: Just Imagine (2019, Summit): Need to sort this out some time. Initially file this under guitarist Dave Miller, but this one plays piano, somewhere in Northern California, "for quite a few years," with a previous album identified as his fifth. Backed by bass and drums, this is a romp through the George Shearing songbook, which is to say standards (including Charlie Parker) done bright and frothy. B+(**) [cd]
Nérija: Blume (2019, Domino): London jazz collective, mostly female septet, best-known is Nubya Garcia (tenor sax), also includes alto sax (Cassie Kinoshi), trumpet (Sheila Maurice-Grey), trombone (Rosie Turton), guitar (Shirley Tetteh), bass (Rio Kai), and drums (Lizy Exell). Some groove with their slick post-bop. B+(*)
Bill O'Connell and the Afro Caribbean Ensemble: Wind Off the Hudson (2019, Savant): Pianist, New Yorker, first album 1978, since then moved into Latin jazz, mostly with the Latin Jazz All-Stars. The Latinos here are mostly in the rhythm section (Robby Ameen, Roman Diaz), while the horn section is chocked full of stars (Craig Handy, Ralph Bowen, Gary Smulyan, Alex Sipiagin, Conrad Herwig). B+(**) [cd]
The Ogún Meji Duo: Spirits of the Egungun (2019, CFG Multimedia): Duo, drums (Mark Lomax) and tenor saxophone (Edwin Bayard), looks like the seventh duo album since #BlackLivesMatter in 2014, although I'm finding very few details on this particular one. They've worked together at least since 1999, powerful in small groups, intense as a duo. The main thing I worry about is that when I go back their trademark sound is so imposing I'll be unable to differentiate and get bowled over by all of them. A-
Mike Pachelli: High Standards (2019, Fullblast): Guitarist, several previous albums. Trio with Tony Levin (bass) and Danny Gottlieb (drums), playing standards. B+(*) [cd]
Jason Palmer: Rhyme and Reason (2018 , Giant Step Arts, 2CD): Trumpet player, half-dozen albums since 2014. Pianoless quartet, second horn is Mark Turner's tenor sax, backed by Matt Brewer (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums). Four longish pieces on each disc, very solid work. B+(***)
Jeff Parker/Jeb Bishop/Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Luther Gray: The Diagonal Filter (2018, Not Two): "The Diagonal" seems to be a group name, but even the label parses the album this way. Boston-based piano trio with two Chicagoans: Parker on guitar and Bishop on trombone. Each impressive on his own, they don't quite fit together seamlessly. B+(**)
Pearring Sound: Nothing but Time (2018 , self-released): Alto saxophonist Jeff Pearring, from Colorado, based in New York since 2002, has a previous album under this moniker. Trio with Adam Lane (bass) and Tim Ford (drums), with a bit of edge and a steady hand. B+(***) [cd]
David Sanchez: Carib (2018 , Ropeadope): Tenor saxophonist from Puerto Rico, had a strong run of albums for Columbia 1994-2004 (pick hit: Obsesion), haven't heard much from him since Ninety Miles in 2011. Lots of percussion here, featuring the barril de bomba as well as Obed Calvaire's drums. With Luis Perdomo on keyboards, Lage Lund on guitar, Ricky Rodriguez on bass. Of course, the sax sounds terrific. B+(***)
Dana Saul: Ceiling (2018 , Endectomorph): Pianist, first album, all original pieces, sextet with Kevin Sun (tenor sax), Adam O'Farrill (trumpet), Patrick Brennan (vibes), bass, and drums. Early on the music builds tension while featuring the vibraphone to introduce tiny fissures. Then the horns fill in and finally build the whole thing up. A candidate for debut album of the year (as was Sun's 2018 debut, Trio). A- [cd]
Rob Scheps: Comencio (2019, SteepleChase): Saxophonist (pictured with a tenor, but plays the whole gamut), originally from Oregon, studied at New England Conservatory, may be first album as leader. With Jamie Reynolds (piano), Cameron Brown (bass), and Jesse Simpson (drums). B+(**)
Harvey Sorgen/Joe Fonda/Marilyn Crispell: Dreamstruck (2018, Not Two): Drums-bass-piano trio, no obvious reason why they are listed in this order, as most pieces are joint improvs (two covers, one from Crispell's long-time drummer Paul Motian). Starts with a soft one, then adds more strength here and there, drawing you in. A-
Lyn Stanley: London With a Twist: Live at Bernie's (2019, A.T. Music): Standards singer, from Tacuma, half-dozen albums, did a Julie London tribute last year. Reprises three songs here, adds nine more. "You Never Can Tell" jumps out at me, but I'm also taken by her "Body and Soul." B+(**) [cd]
The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet: Sweet Oranges (2017 , Not Two): Thornton was an avant trumpet player (1936-89), did most of his work 1966-78, including a couple of big years with Archie Shepp, other notable side work from Sun Ra to Joe McPhee to Anthony Braxton. Group here: Daunik Lazro (baritone/tenor sax), Joe McPhee (valve trombone/tenor sax), Jean-Marc Foussat (synthesizer), and Makoto Sato (drums). Title piece runs 43:58, followed by an 8:25 "Encore." B+(*)
Tucker Brothers: Two Parts (2019, self-released): Nick (bass) and Joel (guitar) Tucker, first album, with Sam Imboden (sax) and Brian Yarde (drums), plus scattered guests (best known is tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III). B [cd]
Ken Vandermark/Klaus Kugel/Mark Tokar: No-Exit Corner (2016 , Not Two): Tenor sax and clarinet, a set recorded live at Alchemia Club Krakow, with local bass (Tokar) and drums (Kugel). I should hedge this a bit, but this is the full-throated way you like to hear him play. [3/5 tracks] B+(***)
Luís Vicente/Vasco Trilla: A Brighter Side of Darkness (2018 , Clean Feed): Trumpet and percussion duo, from Portugal and Spain respectively. Three extended pieces, rather difficult going, but they do surprise now and then. B+(*)
John Yao's Triceratops: How We Do (2018 , See Tao): Trombonist, based in New York, has several previous albums including a big band affair. Quintet with two saxophonists (Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon), bass and drums. Like its namesake, slow and dull at first, but formidable when they finally get moving. B+(**) [cd]
Jason Yeager: New Songs of Resistance (2018 , Outside In Music): Pianist, based in New York, fifth album, mostly originals (Chico Buarque gets a cover), most with words (sung by Erini, Farayi Malek, or Mirella Costa), piano trio with guest spots for horns and cello. Much to resist these days, but I doubt these will prove at catchy as the folkies of yore or various hip-hoppers. B+(*) [cd]
Miguel Zenón: Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera (2019, Miel Music): Tribute to the Puerto Rican singer-songwriter (1931-87), known as El Sonero Mayor. Starts disconcertingly with vocals, what sounds like a sample, but soon the alto saxophonist's superb quartet takes over: Luis Perdomo (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass), and Henry Cole (drums). Dazzling at speed, soulful on the ballads. A- [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Prince: Originals (1981-91 , NPG/Warner Brothers): Previously unreleased demos for songs Prince wrote (or co-wrote) for other artists. As demos go, these are far from minimal, although the backup is fairly generic. Not sure why I find them so tedious. Not his better songs, although the exception ("The Glamorous Life") was simply better in other hands (nod to Sheila E.). B-
Sounds of Liberation: Unreleased (Columbia University 1973) (1973 , Dogtown): Avant-jazz group from Philadelphia led by Byard Lancaster (reeds) and Khan Jamal (vibes), with Monnette Sudler (guitar), Billy Mills (bass), Dwight James (drums), and William Brister (percussion). Group recorded one studio album, which I know from its 2010 reissue as Sounds of Liberation, but was originally (and most recently) titled New Horizons. Lancaster's sax is the strong voice here, but he defers early to the vibes, and B+(*)
Star Band De Dakar: Psicodelia Afro-Cubana De Senegal (1960s-70s , Ostinato): Formed a year after the Cuban Revolution -- this is billed as a 60th anniversary tribute -- Ibrahim Kassé's band, a forerunner of Etoile de Dakar and Orchestra Baobab -- was one of the first to bring Cuban music back to its African roots. Not clear when these particular tracks were recorded. [The band's works have been collected in 12 volumes, but no dates on them either. The songs on this compilation are from volumes 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, and 12.] B+(***)
Two Niles to Sing a Melody: The Violins & Synths of Sudan (1970s-80s , Ostinato): Mostly recorded in Khartoum before the 1989 coup turned the nation toward Salafi Islam and against pop music, although it's possible some tracks were recorded later, in exile -- this label doesn't offer discographical details. Closer to Ethiopia than to Egypt, more emphasis on groove, also on cheese. A- [bc]
Louis Moholo-Moholo: Duets With Marilyn Crispell: Sibanye (We Are One) (2007 , Intakt): South African drummer, duets with the pianist, in her usual good form here. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: